Design Strategies For Tablets

By: Mario Garcia

Here’s the question I’ve been hearing more and more frequently from newspaper publishers and editors in the weeks since the launch of Apple’s iPad: We want to develop a tablet edition — but how do you start?

I usually begin by reminding them that the foundation of what goes into an iPad news app is good storytelling, what some refer to as “traditional journalism.” (That’s a term, incidentally, that I tend to dislike. It makes the main ingredient sound like yesterday’s cough medicine.) That’s why the veterans in the newsroom are key to what we will do on tablets, although you need the new fish in the tank as well.

From what we know — and our knowledge comes more from planning and experimenting than the very little research that’s been conducted so far — these are the three most important criteria when designing your news app, which in most cases is based on an existing printed product:

First, create the storyboard for how you plan to carry content from one platform to the other.

Second, identify your newspaper’s “signature” — what makes it distinctive and special and familiar — and make sure that transfers to your iPad design. Ask yourself, what does your paper do so well, that it can be tremendously enhanced with an iPad edition?

Third, create what I call the “iPad tempo” — the moments that will connect items and topics, provide continuity and pace the content.

In that sense, and in a very basic and general approach, which is all we can do when we teach first steps in any subject, one must arrange the iPad tempos to include: An overview, Editor’s Choice, Signature Moment, and Destination Moments.

We are all learning together here, but I would like to draw up on one tip, if I may, from our own experience in early workshops as we prepare clients to get out of the gate with an iPad edition:

First stop: Check what your technical resources are. You will find out that it will not be possible to do it all on that first day or first week or even first month. Beware that your iPad 1.0 version (more like 0.5, if you ask me), will have the users’ fingers running over the promise of what could be more so than the splash of the here and now. But that’s OK, as users will be so enthralled with the machine itself, with doing their own learning, that they will be happy to take baby steps with you and your introduction to iPad surprises.

Engage your technical people in all your discussions. No question about it (and for traditional editors this is a hard reality to accept), you must deal 50/50 in terms of editorial/technology as you prepare. If technology is not engaged, you may have one side of the house dreaming of a tour of the moon, while the technical guys get ready for a short two-hour flight from point A to B.

Here’s what we’ve learned from the first iPad newspaper and magazine apps to come out of the gate:

* Nobody wants the entire page content as it appears in print to land on the screen.

* A special tablet edition is in order, with a superbly edited version of the editor’s choice of the best content, with special emphasis on multimedia. Think of stories from print that could have received tablet enhancements.

* The iPad is like a pop-up book, it must surprise — and there is nothing linear or flat about it. This is why the role of storytelling is key to a successful tablet edition. Photography will become ever more important, with each photo a huge canvas full of mini-stories.

The iPad can be the ultimate story boutique, as long as the creative people recognize its potential as a unique medium and not a mere dumping ground for the printed edition.

But the story boutique is not open yet. Newspapers and magazines are going into iPad territory cautiously one step at a time (as it should be), and not even crawling yet, allowing us who tinker with our iPads to dream of all the possibilities. The demos we saw in anticipation of the iPad’s arrivals have not quite materialized fully yet. Print still casts a large shadow. But we know that good things come with time for those who wait.

Five years from now, I can see that designing for tablets will have come into its own, with some traces of traditional print design visible and acting as a sort of foundation, but with 80% of the design precisely customized to cater to the needs of those who get all their information exclusively on a tablet.

Mario Garcia is CEO and founder of Garcia Media, a consulting firm based in Tampa, Fla.



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